Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970) – Duality Through Sound And Vision (Part 4).

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.


Whilst this essay has attempted to be as detailed as possible in its readings of Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders, there’s little doubt that covering every aspect of the film would be an infinite task.  Three aspects have been considered quite deliberately in order to show the strong musical framework in which the film is built upon but there are many other avenues that this line of thinking could traverse.  For example, Jireš’ film is often held up to be one of Europe’s defining Freudian films and whilst all of the topics covered do extend and cross over with psychoanalysis, it is a rich vein which will not be tapped here.  The potential for such readings, however, is vast, if only due to the overt references to Freudian ideas within the narrative.

Valerie‘s fragmentary nature is really at the heart of why the musical score is so important.  If a musical score is taken aside from a general film, its natural, fragmented structure (from leitmotiv theory to source scoring) becomes apparent.  Yet, within the films that often showcase this music, their narrative structure is at the very least often linear.  Valerie sticks out and seems more in tune (perhaps even reliant on its music) because it seems to share this very musical and fragmented form.  The two areas, the audible and the visual, move against the idea of an audio-visual counterpoint and instead reinforce the increasingly distorted vision of Valerie herself through overlapping and reemphasising.

Many descriptions of the film belie this structure and give away its essential haphazardness.  Jonathan Rosenbaum describes it as “A collection of dream adventures…” on the UK release’s sleeve notes whilst the fact that the original novel was written by a poet (Vítězslav Nezval) again suggests the potential in recognising the film as “a collection”, a group or even shards of a reality rather than one innumerable whole.  Music reflects this form and, whilst providing the key to several readings (as does happen in multitudes of cinema), it is the formal complexity that allows Valerie to stand out from other European Art House Cinema.

The music has been shown to enforce themes but to also mimic the questioning of Valerie herself.  Very much like the visual palette of the film, Fišer’s music provides both the norm to be questioned and the represented questioning in itself.  The best example of this is in the last section’s analysis, where belief is shown to be a rigid doctrine to be measured by and ultimately rebelled against.  Fišer allows this evolution to occur musically, both by borrowing musical techniques from theological musical practice and then juxtaposing it with the free-reeling, folk infused musicality that represents Valerie’s contentment and her sexuality.  Jireš seems adamant that the two are connected.

The music also suggests a basic direction in regards to reading the film, especially in its emphasis on its themes and structures and away from the complex visualisation of the narrative.  It is all too easy to get lost in the painterly world of Valerie as if leading the viewer astray and ironically creating a mirrored confusion between them and the main character.  Though there have been plenty of analyses of the detailed happenings of the narrative (including detailed breakdowns of why certain actors appear to play a range of characters), the music handily provides an increased emphasis on thematic form that means plenty can be garnered from even a simple analysis outside of the sheer aesthetic pleasures that the film copiously delivers in its florid and endlessly textured visuals.

Perhaps most of all, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is a celebration of emotional and physical evolution.  Jireš’ narrative and direction provide the bones of this idea but it is Fišer’s music that really makes the film a party and a celebration.  The viewer follows Valerie through some deep and complex trials but, because of the universality of those trials, the outcome is certain and inevitable.  It could be argued that the musical reinforcement of this is unnecessary but it misses the final importance of the score; whether through sexuality, belief or the character herself, the music guides and gives rise to Jireš’ celebration of growing up, of discovering the world and, in all finality, discovering of the self.

Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders is released by Criterion on the 30th of June.

Adam Scovell

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